It’s software announcement season, and Google kicked it off May 28 with the keynote at its annual I/O conference.
Information from Google execs covered a dizzying array of products: Android Wear, Android Auto, Android TV, Chromecast, Google Now, Google Photos, Google Play, and developer tools. But the next version of the mobile operating system, Android M, took center stage.
“We have really focused on polish and quality,” said the company’s Senior Vice-President of Products, Sundar Pichai. Instead of whiz-bang new features, essentially, this version will concentrate on streamlining the user experience.
Dave Burke, the Vice-President of Engineering for Android, was silent on a name (Marzipan? Marshmallow?) or version number (5.2? 6.0?) for Android M. He outlined six key areas of improvements and integration of third-party enhancements into the core Android OS.
Rather than display a long list of permissions an app needs when it’s installed, Android M will prompt users to approve new permissions the first time they’re actually required. An augmented reality app, for example, would pop up a question upon first use: “Allow access to camera?” Users will also be able to go back and revoke selected permissions and see which apps have access to what hardware and information.
Loading Web content currently requires an app to launch an external browser or include a browser itself. Android M’s Chrome Custom Tabs provide a native in-app experience, outfitting one Chrome tab with the color schemes, graphics, and buttons chosen by the app developer.
When a link could maybe open in a browser or some other app, the onus is on users to choose. Android M can verify that an app really “owns” a Web link, eliminating the need for an awkward disambiguation menu.
In perhaps one of the most understated announcements of the day, Burke announced Android Pay. Although it builds upon Google Wallet, Android Pay is clearly a response to Apple Pay, enabling contactless mobile payment at more than 700,000 stores. Also like Apple Pay, it can be used in many apps, and your actual credit card number is never shared. It’s supported on Android KitKat and later devices with NFC. Most importantly, the name suggests a platform-agnostic shorthand for mobile payment – “A Pay” anyone?
Although many manufacturers have built fingerprint readers into Android devices, support has not been baked into Android itself until now. Fingerprint readers will be able to use an open authentication API to unlock devices, activate Android Pay, or buy from the Play store.
The Doze feature in Android M will use motion detection to save power. If a device is just sitting around idle for hours, it will stop refreshing data like weather and new emails. Burke said Doze allowed test devices to last twice as long in standby. Android M will also support bi-directional charging via USB-C ports.
Users can also look forward to simplified volume controls for multiple audio streams, direct sharing with frequent contacts, and more context-aware searching in Google Now.
Want to test Android M for yourself? The developer preview is available for Nexus 5, 6, 9, and Player devices from developer.android.com. Let us know what you think, and stop back here tomorrow for more Google I/O news!
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